Toad Road (2012)
Directed by Jason Banker
Writer/director Jason Banker delivers a very realistic and somewhat depressing look into the world of a group of hard partying friends and the unfortunate results when their irresponsible behavior collides with a local urban legend.
Toad Road revolves around the life of James (James Davidson), a drug-addled slacker that spends the vast majority of his time puking on himself in a chemically-altered haze with his equally useless group of friends. We go from one location to the next so the group can have different experiences each time they drop acid or eat mushrooms. Soon the pure, eager to be corrupted Sara (the brilliantly cast Sara Anne Jones) is infused into the film, and she brings a new aspect to James' life as he slowly considers a change in his ways to become more a functional human being.
Sara is envious of the mind-altering experiences James has had throughout his life and makes it clear she wants to share in them. This brings us to Toad Road, an urban legend about a series of gates randomly placed in the woods near them that are rumored to be the actual Seven Gates of Hell. If one were to pass through them, they are (literally) walking the Highway to Hell. And it is around these gates that the true horror of the film happens.
Davidson is very impressive in the lead. His acting is skilled, and he performs an extremely demanding and physical role flawlessly. And the performance of Jones as Sara is just as notable. Her character transitions into the drug culture of her group of friends very quickly, and it changes her from an innocent to a much harder soul very, very fast. Jones handles the part nicely.
Director Jason Banker is also to be commended for a stellar job in putting this film together with the most impressive part of Toad Road being the realism. The film is shot as if you are right there with the group. It not a 'found footage' or 'hand-cam' film at all, but it does give you the feeling that you are peeking in on this group of people without them being able to see you, eavesdropping on a growing storm.
Unfortunately, with a running time of just over an hour, Toad Road spends too much time on the trippy drug adventures with the gang before the action of the film begins. It's understandable that Banker wanted to establish the mindset and lifestyle of his characters before the true meat of the film began at Toad Road, but I would have liked to see it happen sooner. Drug-induced stupors, a shift in time with months going unaccounted for, missing persons investigations…all this is worked into the film after the introductory se up. It would have been great to see more than that.
Toad Road is a film that needs to sit with you for a bit before you make a final decision on it. Initially I thought it was severely lacking because nothing really happened for such a long time in the beginning. But the idea of the unique urban legend concocted for the film, the insane experiences that come from visiting Toad Road and the fallout that follows do make this film entertaining. Some nice work was done here on a very small budget. It's extremely trippy, with the characters (and, at times, the audience) questioning reality. Well acted and realistically directed, Toad Road is probably better described as a movie experience. It does take a very long time to get up and running, but if you're into reality bending films, you might dig this.
3 out of 5